Author: Emma Redmer
Distribution: My site and whoever wants it (but ask first, please! : 0 )
Disclaimer: Rupert Holmes owns Maple, Victor, and the other members of the WENN gang. I just like playing with them, but I'll put them back when I'm done, I promise. : 0 D Millcent Henneford, her husband, her friends, and other original characters are mine.
Keywords: maple victor hotel washington dc
Feedback: Yes, please! Tell me all!
Summary: Victor takes Maple to Washington DC.
This is set during "Hilary's Agent".
This fan fiction is dedicated to the memory of the late Christian Admeral Hotel, the inspiration for the Hotel Columbia. The largest hotel in Cape May, NJ was torn down in 1995, but its grandure and awe still linger in my mind.
Special thanks to Dana Sherman and the list of proper 1940's ettiquite that appeared in her July 98 fanzine. The list was a big help in writing the restaurant scene.
Italics denote emphasis
Fish Out of Water
by Emma Redmer
Maple LaMarsh leaned on the window of the express train that she and Victor Comstock were taking from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. The scenery going by was pretty, but she was too excited and nervous to pay much attention to it. She spent most of the trip chattering to Victor about how she was happy that he had asked her to ac-comp-pa-nie him to the captial of the United States of America. She hadn't been there since she was about eighteen. She had appeared in the chorus of the national tour of a revival of a 1906 operetta, "The Princess of Piasner". It was a terrible show and had closed in Baltimore the week after its Washington run.
Victor seemed to enjoy hearing her stories about the many shows she'd been involved with, usually as a chorus girl or rehersal pianist. She, in turn, liked to hear him about his passing through the fashionable circles of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. He'd met some amazing people. Walter Winchell, Marilyn Miller, Noel Coward, the Astaire siblings before Adele got hitched, Kate Smith, and various minor starlets, talent scouts, and radio actors and actresses. He even knew Hilary Booth briefly during her short bout with Broadway stardom prior to her marriage to Jeff Singer.
They arrived at their destination around noon. Victor rented a car and drove the two of them to their hotel. Maple was shocked when they stopped in front of a giant brick building that seemed to go on for miles and miles in every direction. The Hotel Columbia must have taken up at least ten or fifteen full city blocks, maybe more. She'd seen places like this in New York and Chicago, but she'd never actually been in one. She usually stayed in crumbiling boarding houses that were little more than tenements.
"Victor, does this joint end somewheres, or does it take up all of Washington and the rest of DC, too?" Maple joked to cover up her awe.
"If you find the facade to be astonishing, wait until you witness the interior," Victor smiled. Maple liked his smile. She wished he'd smile more often. It made his whole face light up.
He was right. The lobby alone took her breath away. There were no less than two crystal chandeliers and five stained-glass windows. The carpets were soft orientals and the desks were polished wood. Women in designer dresses and men in smart suits loitered on plush, peach-colored furnature, reading newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and talking in-ter-lec-ture-al talk. They even had little silver bowls of mints sitting on silver-and-glass tables. A band played "My Funny Valentine" in a room on her left. Maple was glad that she'd chosen to travel in her new floral dress and matching hat (even if Hilary did say that the hat made her look like a red-headed Carmen Miranda). She felt more elegant.
Victor was retrieving their room keys from the little man behind the biggest desk. The man had a round face and a bushy mustache and kind of looked like Mackie with hair. She grinned. "Victor, this joint is so completely astonizing." She nodded at the man as Victor signed some papers. "I mean, all this must cost a bundle. Good thing the government's paying, huh? They've got mints in bowls, tons of them. And is that the Benny Goodman Orchastra playing in there?" The little man was gawking at her as if she was an alien from a "Flash Gordon" serial.
Victor handed the little fellow the pen and papers and gathered their keys. He handed one set to Maple. The man behind the desk tried to smile, but it looked more like a grimace. "Reginald, this is Miss Maple LaMarsh, who will be remaining in the adjoining chamber. I want you to provide her with all of the comforts that you customarily provide for me."
"She is a reletive, Mr. Comstock?" asked Reginald in what sounded like a genuine British accent.
Victor shook his head. "Miss LaMarsh is an uncommon colleague of mine that I met at our vocation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I intend to introduce her to this admirable municipality when I'm not performing my program for the government."
"Thanks, Victor," Maple blushed. "I think you're pretty uncommon yourself."
They walked arm-in-arm into the fancy iron elevator. It stopped at the sixteenth floor. The walls were painted in the same peach tones as the lobby. The peach carpet felt like sable under her four-inch heels. A cute young man in an ivory and gold uniform followed with what little luggage they had. Victor stopped in front of a door with the number three painted on it in gold.
"Well, Maple, this is where you'll be residing this weekend. My room is next door. I am performing my program in an hour, but I was hoping that you would like to join me at five o'clock in the bistro downstairs," Victor asked shyly.
"Welcome it? Vic, I'd love it! You're such a sweetheart!" She had no idea of what a bistro was, but she suspected it had something to do with food. At least she hoped it did. There had been no dining car on the train and she was starving.
"You'll need to change. This dining area is rather deluxe. It's one of the finest eateries in the Washington area," he added.
"Sure thing, Vic," she said as she watched him leave. She was glad that he'd asked her to Washington for the weekend. He told her that he originally planned to take Betty with him, but the marathon broadcast that they'd done earlier in the week put her behind in her scripts. Thank goodness she got over the flu in time for the weekend, or she wouldn't have been able to go. Victor was such a sweetie when she was sick. He sent her roses and drove her home when the rest of the cast passed out after the broadcast.
Maple was a little jealous of Betty. Betty'd had Victor first, but things had changed in a year. Scott Sherwood really cared for Betty. Oh, sure, Scott liked Maple, too, but only as a friend. She may not have been an in-ter-lec-ture-al like Victor, but she didn't need smarts to know when someone was head over heels in love. Scotty had it bad. Betty kept turning him down for dates, but Maple suspected that Betty loved Scott, too, real deep down. She just wouldn't admit it 'cause she didn't think that they were..what was that word..comparable.
Maple and Victor were different in a lot of ways, too, but since when did Maple LaMarsh, alias Holly Wood, alias Anna Maria Murdock, let differences stand in the way of a handsome man? Vic just needed to learn a little about love, and she needed a touch of classiness.
Her hotel room was decorated in soft beige tones, with heavy wood furnature. She plopped down on the giant bed and nearly sank into it. She kicked off her heels and opened the heavy beige drapes. Sunlight poured through the wide windows. Fresh flowers sat in a crystal vase on a glass table in front of a polished radio. She had hours before she had to meet Victor for dinner, so she thought she'd listen to some local radio shows and and unpack what little she'd brought for the three days she'd be in town. She switched on the dial and opened her small suitcase. She listened to a soap opera as she put her dresses neatly into the wallpapered closet. The show was good, but not as good as "The Hands of Time" or "Valiant Journey" or "Our Fleeting Passion", at least in her opinion.
Maple looked at the beige clock in her room when the show was over and the news came on. She still had lots of time on her hands, so she decided to explore the Hotel Columbia. She put her shoes back on and wandered to the lobby. It wasn't too crowded. Reginald had been replaced at the desk by a young woman in a simple navy suit, her golden brown hair up in a neat bun.
She sat on the velvety peach couch, wondering what to do next. There were two women in silk dresses on the other side of the couch. The first woman was short and skinny. Her hair was blonde, the kind of natural gold shade that peroxide can't produce. The second was taller, older, and more filled out. Her long black hair was piled on top of her head, and she wore gold glasses that made her blue eyes look huge.They must have coughed up a lot of dough for their do's. The blonde was reading The New Yorker magazine. Maple looked over her shoulder to see what story she was gazing at, but the woman gave her a mean look. Maple shrugged. She was only trying to be friendly.
"Sorry," she explained. "I got a friend who once subletted a story to that rag and almost ended up working for them."
"Really?" asked the woman in the soft, breathy, cultured voice that Maple used for the "Community Bullitin Board" segment of the WENN News at Noon. She'd also used it the time she'd taken over "Men in the Headlines" for Hilary and had met Congressman Farraday. She was glad that he was in Harrisburg doing speeches on America's getting involved with the war in Europe. She didn't know what she would have done or said if she ran into him.
"Oh, yeah. But the station needed her more than The New Yorker did, so she stuck around." Maple giggled as she recalled the day that the WENN staff had discovered the hard way just how much they needed Betty Roberts. Rollie Pruitt had done all of the writing and nearly did away with all of their shows. Good ol' Betty put a stop to that before any major damage could be done.
The other woman looked at the blonde, then at Maple. "Your companion turned down an opportunity to write for a major magazine in order to toil at a radio station?" She almost seemed to look down her nose at Maple. Her voice was high enough to shatter glass or hit Jeanette MacDonald's high C's.
"Well, Betty kinda runs the joint. She writes, too, but she does all of the books and stuff, 'specially when Victor's not around. At that time, we thought he was decimated, but he was actually among the living. He just got amnesia after getting blown up in London," Maple explained.
The two ladies perked up at the mention of Victor's name. "Victor?" asked the blonde, clearly interested. "You wouldn't mean Victor Comstock, the gentleman who currently has his own news commentary program running on WCNN and several independant stations? Everyone here in Washington was so very joyful when it was announced that he had survived that horrendous bombing."
"Tell me," the older woman asked, "how are you aquainted with Mr. Comstock? It's well-known that he is a bachelor, so you're obviously not his spouse."
Maple leaned closer to the ladies. She was more than happy to chat with them about her feelings for Victor Comstock. "Well, Vic and I are sorta going out. We have a date tonight, in fact. Nothing serious yet, but you know how these things work. Ya gotta take em' slow and easy. Ya try to be quick with a gentle-type fella like Vic, and he'll up and run off on ya. I dated J. Paul Getty once, I oughta know." The women just shook their heads. Maple would lay eight-to-one odds that neither of them had ever dated J. Paul Getty. "Oh, by the way, I'm Maple LaMarsh." She held out her hand. The other women didn't take it or offer theirs.
The older woman introduced herself first. "My name is Millicent Henneford, wife of Congressman Donald Henneford. This is Cornelia Parkington, wife of Senator Adam Parkington." Cornelia nodded in Maple's direction.
Maple listened to Millie and Cornelia tell her about their travels and the charities that they worked for and the colleges and finishing schools that they had attended. She in turn described what she and Victor did at WENN. "I vaguely seem to remember hearing about Rolleigh Pruitt, GLOBE Enterprise's financier, being a Nazi saboteur," Millicent commented. "He managed a WENN at one point, or mis-managed it, as the story goes. Would that be your WENN?"
Maple rolled her eyes. "Don't even discourse Rollie Pruitt around me, sugar. He was a pain in the rear. No one at the station is sorry to see him and Holstrom shoved in the slammer, let me tell you! It's where traitorous jerks like them belong."
Millicent narrowed her eyes. "How is it that you came to this city?"
"Vic offered to show me around Washington. I didn't get to see a whole lot of the area the last time I was here. I was too busy performing in 'The Princess of Piasner'," Maple admitted. "Didja ever see that show?"
"No," replied Cornelia, "I can't say that I have."
"You don't want to," grinned Maple. "It was just another boy-meets-girl-in-a-made-up-country operetta. It was lousy. It shut down in Baltimore and I had to work in a speakeasy until I could get employedment in another show. I was the entertainment."
"You don't appear to be the type of female that would appeal to Mr. Comstock. My husband and Cornelia's husband knew him in New York, when he was dating Grace Cavendish, the famed actress," said Millicent importantly.
Cornelia was looking Maple up and down. "Who purchases your clothes?" she asked casualy. "That dress is rather frightful."
Maple was shocked. "I..I do. I buy all my own stuff. This is brand new."
"Who styles your coiffure?" asked Millicent. "He should be dragged out into the streets and publicaly denounced for what he's done to it!"
"There's a fabulous little salon down the street that does top-notch perms and coloring. They could get through your hair in less time than it takes to straighen that Carmen Miranda headdress of yours!" Cornelia continued.
Another woman ran up to the couch. She was of medium height, with short, curly, reddish-brown hair and well-manicured crimson nails. She wore a rust-colored silk suit and carried several shopping bags. Maple recognized some of the names on the bags. They were all huge, fance bow-teaks. "Cornelia, Millie, I thought we were all going out to dine together!" the lady whined.
The older woman smiled. "Oh, Jessica, we've just been enjoying an amusing chat with Miss Mable Laments."
"Maple LaMarsh," Maple corrected them, "Like the syrup." She shook Jessica's hand. Jessica looked surprised.
Cornelia cleared her throat. "Maple, this is Jessica Willoghby, daughter of Congressman George Dramer and wife of Mr. Edward Willoghby, the owner of this establishment. Jessica," she smiled for the first time since Maple had met her, "we were just saying that we should introduce Maple to our fine metropolis. She's visiting here from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as the guest of Mr. Victor Comstock."
Jessica's eyes widened. "Not the Mr. Victor Comstock? The one who used to work in New York and passed away in London only to be miracuously restored to life? I heard his show on the radio at the White House when I was speaking to Daddy and his good friend FDR."
Millicent's grin almost scarily reminded Maple of Rollie Pruitt. "We were just discussing Miss Laments' poor choice in wardrobe and hair styling."
"Oh, yes," Jessica added in agreement. "That garment is terribly garish and outdated and certainly nothing I would wear."
"Hey!" shouted Maple. "This dress cost me fifteen bucks at the Tailored Woman!"
Jessica sat down next to Maple. Maple knew the expression on her face. It was the kind of look that Scott Sherwood got when he was about to come up with one of his brilliant and crazy cons. "Mable, how would you like look like a million dollars?"
"In other words," continued Millie, "like one of us?"
Maple stood in the restaurant of the Hotel Columbia promptly at five. She wore a simple chocolate-brown sheith with matching low-heeled pumps. Her red hair was pulled tightly on top of her head in an almost-severe bun. Her makeup was toned down and her nails laquered by a pro-fess-si-al manicurist down the street from the hotel. The dress was the plainest one she owned. She usually wore a bright coat or blouse over it, but Cornelia said that it brought out Maple's eyes. Maple thought that the dress was boring, but she kept quiet. The pearl necklace was giving her a neck-ache. It was a heavy sucker! The pearl ring and earrings were smaller but no less real. They were on loan from Millie. She was trying to remember the rules of etta...ettikite that the girls had told her when Victor entered. He looked great in an off-white suit with a brick red tie.
Maple thought that Vic's eyes were gonna pop right out of his head when he noticed her. "Maple?" he asked. "Maple LaMarsh? Your outfit is so very.....unusual."
She blushed as red as her hair. "Yeah..I mean, yes, it's me, Victor. I uncovered the wives of some buddies..uh, colleens of yours. They gave me a make-over."
The last time Victor looked that shocked was the afternoon they'd walked into Studio A and saw what fifty-four hours on the air and a couple hundred cups of decaffeinated, herbal-remedied coffee had done to the cast and crew of WENN. He cleared his throat. "Well," he said, taking her arm, "shall we attend our meal? I made reservations."
Maple was beginning to have reservations about the whole date. Victor led her to a small table by a window. She let him get her seat for her and he waited as she sat down. Jess had shown her all of the forks and spoons that belonged on the table and their uses, but she couldn't remember any of it now. She was just gonna have to wing it and pray that Victor wouldn't notice. The waiter, an tall, handsome fellow in a black tux, came up to them. His prenunciation was terrific. Maple wondered if he'd ever taken dictation from Giels Aldrych.
Millie said that it was best to let the man order for both parties. So, when Victor asked Maple what she wanted, she told him that she'd have what he was having. It made for easier ordering, too. She didn't even bother looking at the menu. The only thing she needed to do was look into Victor's soft brown eyes. He had really nice eyes. He was also one of the few men she'd ever know who looked good with thinning hair. Most guys tried to hide it, but Vic said to her on the train to Washington that if Mother Nature wanted him bald, so be it. There were more important wars going on at the moment than his war with his receeding hairline.
Cornelia said that a girl should talk about a man's achooments, about the things that she really admired about him, and that he should do most of the talking. That wasn't a problem. Victor could talk a person's ear off when he really got going, 'specially when it came to radio. He was almost as bad as Hilary or Mr. Foley. They discoursed...discussed his work at the station and some of the ideas he'd developed before he'd been called to London. She really liked hearing about the late-night talk show he'd created, "It's Your Nickel". WENN's equipment hadn't been up to the challenge of a phone-in program at the time, however, and the show was a bust.
"What about you?" Victor asked when their salads arrived. "How do you feel about your work at WENN? You seem pleased with it."
"Oh, it's the best work I ever had," exclaimed Maple. "Everybody's been so sweet to me, and I don't have to divest myself of my holdings, if you know what I mean." She gazed over the wide selection of forks in an attempt to locate the one she was supposed to use for salad. Victor picked one up and handed it to her.
"I believe you're searching for this, Maple," he said.
She thanked him, but that didn't make her any less nervous. She'd been ordered to appear to be having fun no matter what she was really feeling, but she still had butterflies in her stomach. She felt as if she were going to be operated on. She decided to operate on her salad instead. They ate in silence until the waiter came and took away their plates.
"Is there a problem, Maple?" Victor finally asked. "You're as pale as a specter. I thought I was supposed to be the phantom."
Maple couldn't hold it back anymore. She told him about Millie, Cornelia, Jess, and how they'd treated her. Victor looked sad when she was finished talking. "Maple, I didn't entreat you to accompany me because you're a carbon copy of every politician's wife in Washington DC. I entreated you because you're you. When I requested that you change for our meal, I meant that you should change your outfit, not your personality."
"Ya know, I don't think they really liked me. They liked what they could make me into. I was just their doll, and I let them dress me up in pretty clothes so I could get you to like me. I know you used to date Grace Cavendish, and dames like her, and I wanted you to like me, too," sighed Maple. "I'm just a girl like me. I never made it through high school, much less finished school. I don't have breeding or class or whatever real ladies are supposed to have."
Victor spoke quietly. "Maple, I'll be completely honest with you. I'm very fond of Betty. I might even love her, I'm not certain as of yet. However, I'm also very fond of you. You have proved to be more of a real lady that Mrs. Henneford or any of her co-horts could ever aspire to be." Maple took his smooth, warm hand. He squeezed hers reassuringly. She grinned as the waiter hurried up with their roast leg of lamb and mint jelly.
Maple looked up at that moment to call for the waiter and instead saw Millie standing at their table. Her blue satin gown was too tight for her on the bottom and covered on top by a mink coat that must have taken half the minks in Canada to make. A plump, balding man sat at a table across the mostly empty room and was motioning to her. He must have been Congressman Henneford. He looked like a toad with a little bit of silvery hair arranged to cover the bald spot on his head. Millie's grin was that of a shark's.
"Hello, Miss Laments," she purred. "How's that date going? I hope you're being a good little girl. Men like good little girls." She siddled up to Victor next. She was two steps to sitting on his lap. Vic looked completely shocked. "Mr. Comstock, I've soooo wanted to meet you," she gushed. "I admire some of the things you did in New York. You should have never left. You could have had a woman, a million dollars, not small bills like you would find in Pittsburgh." She nodded in Maple's general direction.
Maple stood. She'd had about enough of Millicent "Millie" Henneford. She wanted to deck her clear across the bee-stro, but that wasn't a lady-like thing to do. Instead, she calmly pulled Millie off of Victor's lap, took off the necklace, earrings, and ring, and handed them to the stunned woman. The few people who were eating turned and stared, but Maple didn't care anymore.
"You know, Mil, I give you credit. You really taught me a lesson." She laughed and pulled out the bun. Her flame-colored tresses spilled over her shoulders. "You can keep your pearls, your wardrobe, your congressman, your charities, your finished schools, and your etta-kate. I don't need them to be a lady. I just need to be what I am and let other folks be what they are. I've always prefered small bills. Thanks again. Tell Jess and Cornelia that I said hiya." Millie snatched her gaping spouse off of his chair and silently dragged him out of the dining room in an explosion of anger.
"Well said, Maple!" laughed Victor. "Her husband is even more insufferable. I interviewed Donald Henneford on my program this afternoon. He argued every one of my principals and gazed at me as if I were something distasteful. It's well known that he and his wife aren't getting along. I'm not a gossip, but there has been talk of divorce. I knew Senator Parkington and Congressman Dramer when I worked in New York. They broke off contact with me when I left the networks for WENN."
"Why? I mean, you're smart, you're good-looking, you..." Maple started. Victor interrupted her.
"...manage a tiny, independent radio station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania," Victor finished. "Many people were convinced that I was insane to give up my posistion at the Columbia Brodcasting Station in New York. They still are. I quit the Networks to have more creative freedom. People like Congressman and Mrs. Henneford cannot comprehend this. They have no more imagination or creativity than this lamb we're partaking of. My true friends stood by my decision, and they weren't my friends."
Maple thought about Victor's words and nodded. She didn't need folks like Millie and her crew and her hubby to tell her how to dress or act or what color eye shadow she should use. As long as she was happy with her bangle bracelets and four-inch heels, those snobby politicians and their dames and what they thought of her didn't matter so much. Vic mattered, though, and she aimed to get him, come hell, low-water, the government's demands, or Miss Betty Roberts.
All she said was "Thanks for your support, Vic."
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